Palo Duro Canyon, Texas - Photo Credit Chase Fountain

American White Ibis, Texas - Photo Credit Chase Fountain

Hyrum Reservior, Utah - Photo Credit Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Western Tanger, Oregon - Photo Credit Keith Kohl



During the early 1920s a few state game officials in the West felt the need to join together to solve a series of game management questions that they had in common.

Game commissions throughout the West were just beginning to assume their responsible positions with respect to the management of game and fisheries resources in these mostly undeveloped areas. Of particular importance at that time was a threat to state sovereignty in the matter of game management by the growing federal land management agencies. These federal agencies were similarly undergoing a period of growth and were in the process of carving out areas of responsibility which many people believed included the management of game on the vast areas of federal lands in the west. The developing states, feeling that the matter of state sovereignty was paramount, banded together for mutual assistance and protection against what was thought at that time to be a federal push leading toward the management of all wild land resources in these states.

In 1922 several "pioneers" from the western states' game departments met in Salt Lake City to form the Western Association of State Game Commissioners to combat this threat. The important players in this early movement were Dave Madsen of Utah, C. A. Jakways of Montana, A. E. (Cap) Burghduff of Oregon, and Rolly Parvin of Colorado. Seven game officials from some of the western states sat around a table in Dave Madsen's office in the State Capitol in Salt Lake City to form the first meeting of this Association. Madsen was elected President of the Association in 1922 to be followed by Jakways in 1923, Burghduff in 1924, and Parvin in 1925.

The early bylaws provided that membership should consist of the game commissioners or state game wardens of the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. In those days, fish and wildlife agencies were called "commissions", although few had a separate commission as we know it today.

Objectives of the original organization were to promote harmony and unity among its members and members of like associations throughout the country for the purpose of exercising a combined and powerful influence in securing the enactment of laws and amendments; to present laws favoring the propagation of wildlife and fish; and to further provide for just, reasonable, and uniform laws and regulations for the protection of wildlife and fish.

During the first decade of the Western Association's activities, the chief interest of the Association was to combat federal inroads into game management, and particularly into deer management. The battle ended when the Forest Service retrenched from its position that it was responsible for the management of big game on National Forests in the West. This clearly established the right of the states as the primary managers of resident game and fish.

Over the period of years, once this big issue was settled, the Western Association and the Forest Service have become working partners, rather than combatants, in the field of big game management on National Forests. Even though differences arise between state and federal policies from time to time, the Western Association, working with various federal agencies, has been able to arrive at generally satisfactory working arrangements.

While the major role played by the Western Association throughout the years has been to serve as a strong advocate of the right of the states and provinces to retain full management control of resident game species, it has also been involved in other issues. In the early years, members opposed passage of the Federal Hunting License Bill on the basis that it would divert revenue from hunters which could be better utilized by the states. Strong action was also taken against a federal regulation which was considered an infringement on the states' prerogative to solely establish seasons, bag limits, and license structure on federal land. The Western Association was one of the first organizations to support use of the excise tax on arms and ammunition to augment other funds for wildlife restoration and management.

The Western Association began to broaden its activities. In the early 1940s, as a result of growth of the state game departments in the field of scientific game management, the Western Association began to take on a completely different aspect. In addition to becoming a meeting of fish and game commissioners and game department directors, a group of technicians from the various states banded together to exchange research and management information of importance to the western departments. Federal technicians from the Forest Service and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service working in the West also began to view this gathering of technicians as a place to exchange and gain management information.

The first such meeting at which technicians formed an appreciable part took place in Wyoming in 1942. During the remainder of the war years, the Western Association held a series of minimum size meetings of top officials.

In 1946, the Western Association started a new series of meetings which involved people interested in game and fisheries management including commissioners, directors, administrators, technicians from the various states and Canadian provinces, and federal officials on the national and regional levels. Many complex problems involving the management of western wildlife resources have been brought to light and to ultimate solution since then as a result of this annual meeting. From these early annual sessions emerged publication of the Western Proceedings, which today - 60+ years later - continues to be published and distributed nationwide to state and federal agencies, universities, libraries and other non-governmental conservation organizations.

As member agencies began to alter their structure, so too did the Western Association. In 1957, the name was changed to the Western Association of State Game and Fish Commissioners to reflect the growing emphasis on fisheries programs. In 1978, the name was again altered to reflect changing times. As member agencies became "departments" rather than "commissions", the Western Association evolved to its current name, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

While these early accomplishments were significant, a series of actions undertaken by the Western Association since the late-1970s has established its reputation for innovation, leadership and a "can do" attitude.

The first of these came in 1979, when in an effort to counter the growing urbanization of our society with the lessening of the public's awareness of fish and wildlife issues, the Western Association began development of a wildlife education program designed to be used by school teachers in the classroom. Member agencies provided personnel and financial support for the development of classroom activities and teaching aids and funded the implementation stages. The product, known as Project WILD, exploded onto the scene, capturing the imagination of teachers and helping shape state wildlife agency conservation education programs since its inception. Today, Project WILD is approaching its 25th anniversary as an interdisciplinary, supplementary environmental and conservation education program for educators of kindergarten through high school age young people. Nearly a million educators have been trained in Project WILD workshops and they, in turn, have provided instruction to more than 48 million youth. Project WILD is literally, today, a worldwide phenomenon. The Western Association relinquished direct control of the Project WILD nearly 15 years ago, but remains very committed to its purpose.

In 1985, the Western Association began developing another program designed to help fish and wildlife agencies become more responsive to conflicting user and public demands on the natural resources. This program, called Response Management, incorporated survey techniques to provide information on public attitudes and opinions in order to tailor management programs. Originally it included a training program especially directed toward fish and wildlife agencies dealing with conflict resolution, marketing and managing change. Agencies quickly began using Responsive Management techniques to improve agency image and performance. Again, because of the rapid rate of expansion, the Western Association transitioned out of its direct program management responsibilities for Responsive Management in the mid-1990s. Today, Responsive Management, Inc., under the leadership of Mark Duda, has blossomed into one of the premiere natural resource firms in the country. This program, started in the West, has left its mark on agencies and vastly improved our collective knowledge and understanding of our constituencies.

Since the early 1990s, the Western Association has helped pioneer the states' involvement in the all sorts of CITES processes at various venues where these matters are discussed. This kind of persistence and early representation has recently allowed all the regional associations to become involved and be heard in a meaningful way, thereby protecting state options and strengthening the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service/State partnership in this arena. Since this work was undertaken over 10 years ago, the states have not lost a single management prerogative.

In 1999 and 2000, the Western Association again set precedence with Memorandums of Understanding among member agencies involving the conservation and management of such species as the black-tailed prairie dog, Townsend's Big-eared bat and sage grouse. These multi-state, rangewide initiatives, led by the Western Association, are putting into place plans, protocol, and habitat standards that should allow these species from being listed under the Endangered Species Act. More importantly, they will enhance the status of these populations throughout their range. Accompanying these efforts have been Association-driven university research on genetics, rangewide conservation assessments and strategies, and Memorandums of Understanding with federal agencies aimed at bringing about meaningful change on the landscape to benefit some of these (and other) species. An example of success from this approach is BLM's recent launching of its Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy designed to support the states' sage grouse conservation plans and maintain sage grouse habitats in the West. Once again, strategic positioning by the Western directors has helped shape national policy and the arena in which the states must operate today.

Finally, within the past several years, the Western Association has become very aggressive in the human dimensions arena and funded the first-of-its-kind pilot research project concerning public values toward wildlife in the West. The study examined the relationships among societal and lifestyle characteristics, wildlife value orientations, and attitudes toward specific wildlife management actions. The initial study only involved six western states. Based on the results, the study was expanded to include wildlife values among people in all 19 western states. This pioneering work, performed by researchers at Colorado State University, is having profound benefits to all member agencies because in addition to individual state-specific data, the regional component of the survey provides the basis for comparison between member states, and across the region.

This same approach was later employed to learn more about public attitudes regarding chronic wasting disease. Another regionwide survey was recently conducted to answer questions concerning people's perspectives about the disease which, in turn, has helped fashion agency programs designed to deal with these findings.

While capturing some of the highlights of the past eight decades of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the previous information probably doesn't do justice to the hard work and issues confronted by the thousands of directors, commissioners and professional staffs of member agencies over the years. From its meager beginnings with seven member agencies in 1922, the Western Association has more than tripled in size to now include 19 states, 3 Canadian provinces and 2 Canadian Territories. Not only is it large in size, but the Western Association is larger than life in terms of accomplishments - especially over the past 25 years.

As the Western Association moves into the future, employees of all the member agencies are confident that by working together, the fish and wildlife resources of the West and the habitat upon which those resources depend will be protected and enhanced so that future generations can enjoy our natural heritage.

Link to our Current Members List